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What is food insecurity?

Food insecurity threatens the success of our young people in the National Capital region – the District of Columbia, Northern Virginia, and Maryland. 


  • Food insecurity threatens the success of our young people in the National Capital region – the District of Columbia, Northern Virginia, and Maryland. Students in low-income communities face a variety of barriers to achieving academic success and overall wellness, including limited access to healthy food options.
  • The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food insecurity as “a household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food.”
  • Many children in the National Capital region rely heavily on school meals - breakfast and lunch – but do not have access to meals when they are not in school, such as weekends, holiday breaks and during the summer.
    • In the District of Columbia 13.4% of households are food insecure; in Maryland, 13.3% households are food insecure and in Virginia, that rate is 9.5%. (Source: Urban Institute Testimony)
  • Through UWNCA’s case management in our community schools program, we have learned that too many of our middle school students lack access to an adequate amount of nutritious food to enable them to sustain a healthy life. For instance, in the Washington, D.C. suburb of Alexandria, Virginia, Francis C. Hammond Middle School has an enrollment of 1,400 students with about 70% of those attending class eligible for free or reduced lunches. Hungry children are often unable to fully engage in daily activities such as schoolwork and social interaction with peers.

RELATED: IMPACT: Feeding our Children


  • Local case studies from our area have found that too often, low-income and poor students go home over the weekend to households with little or nothing to eat, only to return back to school on Monday hungry and unable to concentrate, unable to learn and resulting in behavioral issues.
  • These students are twice as likely to be placed in special education and kept back a year in school. Additionally, the stress that is put on parents who are facing food insecurity has been proven to lead to grave behavioral and emotional issues that can impair mental health and make it difficult for students to adjust to social situations. Without adequate nutrition, children are easily distracted and unable to focus on learning in school.
  • Students who, are hungry are more likely to have decreased cognitive performances, lower grades, higher rates of absenteeism and tardiness, and are unable to focus in the classroom.


  • Summer meal programs, remote meals sites, and partners throughout the community that offer meals and services will help remove the obstacles faced by students and families. Many schools in the region offer programs, but more are needed.
  • Greater investments are needed in summer meal programs to ensure that low-income communities have the program platforms for building summer meal sites/distributions to reduce hunger.
  • As part of the United Way NCA’s focus on middle-grade success to an on-time high school graduation, we have committed to fueling success in the classroom by promoting healthy eating and physical activity habits.
  • United Way NCA’s signature program, Weekend Hunger Backpacks, is a partnership with community organizations, non-profits and corporations, are designed to help students show-up for school on Monday fed and ready to learn. Backpacks filled with lifesaving and healthy food choices prepare students for the school week just as pens and pencils do in the classroom.
  • As part of United Way NCA’s middle school grade success and on-time graduation, we have committed to fueling success in the classroom by promoting healthy eating and physical activity habits – currently serving thousands of students and families.
  • United Way NCA is partnering with community schools and nonprofit partners to provide food to students through the following programs:
    • Development of weekend food backpack program at John Hayden Johnson Middle School for 120 students who might otherwise go hungry, through a partnership with Communities in Schools Nation’s Capital and Transitions Healthcare LLC.
    • Expansion and support food distribution across program activities in both the Buck Lodge Middle School and William Wirt Middle School communities through a partnership with Latin American Youth Center (and Capital Area Food Bank).
  • Monthly food distributions to provide food insecure families with supplemental nutrition
  • Community events/student services/field trip food distributions of healthy snacks and meals for students.
    • Support to develop (2015-2016), sustain and expand the food resources available to Francis C. Hammond Middle School students during the school day and after school through a partnership with Communities in Schools Northern Virginia (and ALIVE)
  • Weekend backpack program for food insecure students who might otherwise go hungry.
  • Healthy snacks for students participating in afterschool enrichment, academic assistance and Saturday Academy programs
  • Food pantry in the Community Corner/Resource Room is now accessible to any student/family in need of food during the day.

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SOURCE: United Way of the National Capital Area